Topical Scripture: Hebrews 4:14–16
March 31, 2019 / Harbor Chapel
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I’m not sure that’s always true. Here are some examples:
“You know you’re old when you go to bed at the time you used to go out.”
“If by ‘crunches’ you mean the sound potato chips make when you chew them, then yes, I do crunches.”
This image comes close, however: “Apparently there’s a third option between burial and cremation.”
We’re now in the Easter season, and the images are clear and powerful. Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Our Lord driving the moneychangers from the temple, debating the authorities, eating the Last Supper, praying while he sweated drops of blood in Gethsemane, hanging from a cross, rising from the grave.
These images changed our world.
We know the what and the who of Easter. But we don’t always know the why. Why did Jesus have to be born to die? Why couldn’t he simply have appeared as a thirty-three-year-old man to die for us? Why did he have to die? Why on a cross? Why did he have to rise from the dead?
These questions require words. Their answers, as we will see during this Easter season, are life-transforming.
We begin at the beginning: Why was Jesus born? We’re going to discover that the answer offers us hope and help we can find nowhere else on earth.
Why was Jesus born?
Let’s begin by exploring the question. If I ask you why Jesus came to earth, you’d probably answer, “To die for our sins.” And you’d be right.
But the God who created the universe and could enter it as a man could have come in any way he wanted. He could have come as a child, an adult, or an elderly man. He could have come as a woman. He could have come as a Jew or a Gentile, a Roman or an Asian. He could have come in any way at all. If his only purpose in coming to earth was to die, why did he come as he did?
The facts of his incarnation are clear. The only baby who chose his parents chose a teenage girl from a town so small it’s not mentioned even once in the entire Old Testament. Her fiancée was a carpenter so poor he could not provide more than the most basic sacrifice when Jesus was born.
When time came for him to be born, his mother brought him to Bethlehem, where they arrived so late there was room only in a stable. And so, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, was born in a stable and laid in a feed trough. The cave where it happened was and is dark, dingy, anything but attractive.
He then grew up in obscurity in Nazareth before beginning his movement in Galilee, far from the temple, the rabbis, the Sanhedrin, the power structures of the day. His disciples, while successful businessmen, were not recognized as scholars or religious authorities.
He spent time with tax collectors, lepers, demoniacs, exiles and outcasts. Then he came to the one city where he knew he would be arrested, illegally tried, and executed.
Why did he do all of this?
The Incarnation fulfills prophecy
One answer is that Jesus’ incarnation fulfills prophecy. Micah predicted seven centuries before Christmas: “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
Scripture also predicted that he would be born of a virgin: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Jesus fulfilled many more prophecies with his death and resurrection, as we will see in coming weeks. So, we know that Jesus had to be born to fulfill God’s word.
But why did God make these predictions? Why did the Spirit inspire these prophecies?
The Incarnation shows Jesus’ solidarity with us
If Jesus had simply come to earth to die for us, what would we miss?
We would miss his healing ministry, as he touched leprous bodies, opened blind eyes, and raised dead bodies.
We would miss his feeding ministry, as he nourished thousands of hungry people.
We would miss his teaching ministry. The four gospels are filled with wisdom we would not have apart from his incarnational ministry.
We would not have the apostles and the movement they led. Who would know that Jesus died for us? Who would tell the story?
Jesus’ earthly life shows his solidarity with us. He was hungry in the wilderness, tired at the Samaritan well, and thirsty on the cross. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He felt everything we feel.
Jesus was also tempted in every way we are: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He was tempted by possessions in the wilderness as Satan tried to entice him to turn stones into bread. He was tempted by popularity at the pinnacle of the temple as Satan tried to entice him to jump off and impress the crowds. He was tempted by power when Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his worship.
In short, he was tempted in every way we are, but without sin.
Jesus is now praying for us: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
We might think that Jesus’ incarnational life enables him to do this more powerfully. Those who have been through what you have been through can pray for you as others cannot.
However, Jesus was and is omniscient, as is his Father. If he had to come to earth to understand us so he could pray for us, what of those who lived before Christmas? Does this mean the Father cannot understand us?
Here’s the point: Jesus did not come to earth to learn something he didn’t know, but to teach us something we didn’t know. Namely, that all he did, he can still do. What he was, he still is.
Max Lucado: “Why did God leave us one tale after another of wounded lives being restored? It isn’t to tell us what Jesus did. It’s to tell us what Jesus does. Paul says in Romans 15:4: ‘Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. The Scripture gives us patience and encouragement so that we can have hope.'”
Scripture is clear: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). All he has ever done, he can still do. Now he wants to do it for you.
What does the Incarnation mean for us?
After testifying to Jesus’ defeat of all temptation, the author of Hebrews invites us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The Incarnation proves that Jesus understands us. We now have proof that he knows what it is to grieve, to hunger, to thirst, to grow weary. We have proof that he knows what it is to be tempted and tested.
As a result, when we are grieving, hungry, thirsty, or tired; when we are tempted and tested; we know where to turn. We know who to trust. We can “draw near to the throne of grace” and know that “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Perhaps you know the story of Joseph Damien. A Belgian priest, he was sent in 1873 to minister to lepers in Hawaii. As soon as he arrived on Molokai, he began trying to build friendships with the residents of the leper colony there, but they rejected him. He built a small chapel and held regular services. But hardly anyone came.
After twelve long years, Father Damien gave up. While standing on the pier about to board the ship that would take him home to Belgium, he looked down at his hands. The white spots he saw there could mean only one thing: he had contracted leprosy. So instead of going home, he returned to his work in the leper colony.
News of the missionary’s disease spread through the community within hours, and soon hundreds of lepers had rushed outside his hut. They understood his pain and despair. The following Sunday, when Father Damien arrived at the chapel, the building was filled to overflowing. Thus began a long and fruitful ministry.
What made the difference? Now the lepers knew that the minister knew their condition. They knew that he cared about them, that he could identify with them, that he was one of them.
His love for them had not changed. But their belief in his love had.
This is the story of the Incarnation. It is the story of Jesus’ love for you, right now.
Why do you need his grace today?